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Saturday, Apr 20, 2024

Uninsured Make ERs Routine Stop

For too much of the Valley’s uninsured population, emergency rooms are a one-stop shop. Everything an ailing person needs, X-rays, medical tests and prescription medicine, can be found in one place. What uninsured patients aren’t prepared for, however, are the mammoth bills that come after an emergency room visit. Most of them can’t pay, and hospitals are stuck with a permanent money-losing proposition. The fate of a financially strapped hospital is often closure, as Californians know. Doctors and administrators are required to treat every patient that comes through the doors, but more and more they are trying to convince regular visitors to seek other treatment for lingering conditions. The issue was at the forefront of the health care debate in 2004. “We have a social service person here who is knowledgeable about what’s available in the community,” said Dr. Michael Sarti, medical director of emergency services as Providence Holy Cross. “It’s not the most efficient care to have some one coming back to the ER.” Sarti said doctors never discourage patients from coming back to the emergency department, but said that educating patients as to the alternatives in a community is a daunting task. Sarti said there is social worker available seven days per week during business hours, but that state-budgeted outreach programs are continually shrinking. Some hospitals are looking for new ways to encourage patients to seek continuing care elsewhere. “On the front end, you can’t do a whole lot, but when they’re discharged, the best thing we can do is education, and work on getting them referrals,” said Dr. Stephen Jones, medical director of emergency services at Northridge Hospital and Medical Center. “We’re working with Tarzana Treatment Centers and developing a process by which we have a case worker speak with patients and arrange for follow up care.” Jones said the program is aimed at patients who come to the emergency department on a regular basis for chronic or recurrent acute care.

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